So far, 2023 has been a challenging year for Bud Light.
In April the beer brand partnered with transgender actor and TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney on a sponsored social media post promoting Bud Light’s “Easy Carry Contest.” Mulvaney’s video (her second post in collaboration with Bud Light) featured a custom can of beer with her photo on it that read “Cheers to 365 Days of Being A Woman” as a nod to Mulvaney’s “Days of Girlhood” TikTok series that documented her transition.
Since going live, the ad drew criticism from conservative audiences, with some social media users posting footage of themselves pouring out Bud Light and calling for a boycott of the brand. In response, the company’s leadership tried to distance the brand from the partnership.
This move drew more backlash, this time from the LGBTQ+ community, causing some LGBTQ+ bars to stop serving products from Anheuser-Busch, Bud Light’s parent company.
By May, Bud Light experienced a 23% drop in sales compared to the prior year, and a dip in stock price. It’s worth noting, the controversy may not be the only deciding factor of Bud Light’s declining sales. Alcohol consumption has been on the decline for some time, especially among younger millennials and Gen Z.
This series of events has been dubbed the “Bud Light effect” which may give companies some pause when it comes to sharing controversial topics.
Bud Light’s New Summer Ad
In an attempt to overcome the controversy, Bud Light just released a new ad called “Easy to Summer” that has already racked up over 279k views in less than a week. But if the comments are any indication the new ad may have missed the mark.
Some snippets of the ad feature comedic moments like a man falling off a paddleboard, and another walking through a screen door and spilling a tray of snacks. In the comments, users expressed disdain for the ad, claiming Bud Light wants to make male consumers of the drink appear dumb or incompetent.
One comment reads, “So Bud Light is telling us Bud Light drinkers are stupid. Got it. This ad makes me want to reach for anything but Bud Light.”
That’s not the conclusion any marketer wants a viewer to come to after seeing their content. Here are a few lessons marketers can learn from Bud Light’s missteps:
Lessons Learned from Bud Light
The importance of standing behind the statements you make.
Despite what critics of the Mulvaney ad may say, Bud Light has a long history of LGBTQ+-inclusive marketing. The brand has been in partnership with GLAAD since 1998, has sponsored multiple Pride celebrations, and ran an ad in 2016 depicting the wedding of a same-sex couple.
Additionally, earlier this year Alissa Heinerscheid, VP of Marketing for Bud Light, said in an interview that her focus was to continue promoting inclusivity to attract younger customers. The initial posts with Mulvaney could have been an opportunity for the brand to walk the walk with these claims of inclusivity.
However, by downplaying the partnership with Mulvaney the brand makes its prior inclusive marketing efforts appear inauthentic, further alienating customers.
Knowing your audience.
The reaction to the “Easy to Summer” ad highlights how important it is for brands to understand the segments of their audiences. It’s worth noting that there’s a big difference between customers feeling like they’re in on the joke versus customers feeling like they are the joke, and this distinction needs to be made with comedic content.
Because Bud Light’s audience was already on high alert, the comedic tone of the ad was lost when members of the audience felt like they were the butt of the joke.
We'll see if Bud Light can overcome these missteps in time to make it to summer barbecues this year.